Great Brand Recognition for Nigeria
Bismark Amamoo - Accra-Dansoman
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Nothing offers a glimpse into Lagosians’ resilience, faith, and quirky optimism quite like their city’s bright yellow transport system
COLORS is now working with seasonal color palettes to inspire all activities across our brand. To celebrate the launch of PALETTE 1—a melange of primeval colors such as reds, oranges, yellow ochre, and clay like umbers that humans have used for self expression for centuries—we’re publishing “COLORS STORIES” by contributors from the COLORS community that delve into what the colors in the palette mean to them.
To kick things off, writer Ify Obi and photographer Manny Jefferson decided to base their COLORS STORY on the distinct shade of yellow that lines Lagos’ public transportation systems. Dive into their photo story to find out more about the cultural significance of Danfos, their links to Nigerian music culture, and the economic challenges that threaten their existence.
Lagos loves yellow. Amidst the sea of alluring hues that color all corners of the sprawling Nigerian metropolis, it’s the yellows that dazzle, capturing your gaze and complimenting the electrifying buzz of the city’s hustle and bustle culture. The most prominent and recognisable casts of yellow in Lagos emanate from the public transportation system, from the Danfos and Molues (buses) to Kekes (tricycles) and Cabu Cabus (taxi cabs).
Danfos (which translates to ‘hurry’ from Yoruba) are particularly fascinating. Across the city, these often rickety vehicles zoom by like tornados, hinging on the drivers’ encyclopedic knowledge of potholes to propel them safely from place to place. Meanwhile, danfo conductors yell out the names of bus stops, determined to fill all of their 12-16 seats and collate fares.
“To read the colorful inscriptions in Yoruba, Arabic, and Pidgin English pasted on the buses is to understand the personal ideologies of their drivers.”
More than just a mode of transport, Danfos are uniquely part and parcel of Lagos’ cultural identity, and nothing offers a glimpse into the resilient spirit, faith, and quirky optimism of Lagosians quite like them. To read the colorful inscriptions in Yoruba, Arabic, and Pidgin English pasted on the buses is to understand the personal ideologies of their drivers: while some are covered in prayers and theistic expressions like “God dey (God is present)”, “Oye Olohun (God understands)”, “Up Mecca!”, “Oluwa Loseyi (God did)”, and “Alhamdulillah (meaning ‘praise be to God’ in Arabic)”, others feature affirmative slogans and philosophical street slang like “Soro Soke (speak up)”, “Sopetie (be thankful)”, “No condition is permanent”, and “No stress”. Many are also covered in stickers of the drivers’ favorite musical artists—images of Wizkid, Asake, Seyi Vibez, Pasuma Wonder, Portable, and K1 De Ultimate are nearly inescapable—whose tracks, along with different iterations of apala, juju, fuji, and afrobeats music, blair from the vehicle’s speakers.
Danfos’ sense of urgency, vibrant energy, and continuous state of movement towards potentially profitable destinations directly mirrors what life is like in one of Africa’s most populated metropolises. These days, however, Lagos’ prized yellow buses struggle to maintain operation in the face of the country’s constant socio-economic uncertainty.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Nigerian economy has seen double-digit inflation since February 2016 at 11.38 per cent. The present inflation rate at 22.41 per cent is the highest it has been in 17 years. Also, the removal of fuel subsidies by President Bola Tinubu during his inaugural speech earlier in the year launched a hike in fuel prices. Whereas the official pump price of fuel in Nigeria was about N206.19 per liter or 0.27 Euros in December 2022, today it sits at N617 or 0.62 Euros per liter. “I feel your pain. This is one decision we must bear to save our country,” President Tinubu declared in an address. The effects of this? A worsening cost-of-living crisis felt across all social strata. “These days, my bus takes longer to fill up,” says Idowu, a bus driver who has been covering the Oyingbo to Bariga bus route for a little over 4 years. “These cars that you’re seeing here haven’t left this park for three days,” adds Mr Sunday Ajibola, a taxi driver in Masha, Surulere, who has been on the road for 35 years. “There is no fuel, no money to buy fuel, and the passengers are no longer coming. We have nothing to do.”
A report by the NBS stated that as a result of the fuel price hike, “the average fare paid by commuters for bus journeys within the city per drop [at a bus stop] increased by 97.88 per cent from N649.59 in May 2023 to N1,285.41 in June 2023.” The once loud, busy, and vibrantly yellow streets of Lagos are now quieter as commuters have started to opt for cheaper modes of transport, from walking for some distance to embracing cycling as advised by Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC).
“There is no fuel, no money to buy fuel, and the passengers are no longer coming. We have nothing to do.”
“Danfos are our culture. Even when you ask Nigerians in the diaspora, it is one of the things that they can easily point out about Lagos. It would be quite sad to take all of that away.”
Fuel prices are not the only threat to Danfos’ existence: over time, there have been a few attempts to completely phase out the yellow vehicles in favor of modernized transport systems “more fitting for a megacity”. Examples include the newly launched Lagos Blue Rail Transit, Lagos Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and LagRide ride-hailing taxi initiative. “We are inviting the private sector to participate in the provision of public transport services,” said Dr Frederic Oladeinde, Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, during a forum in 2021. Before that, the former Lagos State Governor shared similar sentiments. “When I wake up in the morning and see all these yellow buses… then we claim we are a mega city, that is not true and we must first acknowledge that that is a faulty connectivity that we are running.”
While previous attempts to get the yellow buses off the road have failed, there is a lot of valid concern for the future. The successful 2022 ban of Okadas (commercial motorcycles) by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu demonstrated the ability of the government to make good on their threats. Danfos have also already noticeably felt the effects of Uber, Bolt (formerly Taxify), and the aforementioned Lagos State-owned ride-hailing system, LagRide. “Uber has spoilt our business. Things used to be better, but now it has gotten worse,” Mr Ajibola laments.
In the face of these hurdles, Lagos’ yellow buses remain. When I ask Mr. Ajibola if he plans to retire soon, he laughs and says, “Retire? If I retire, what will I do? People need money to retire, and there is no money.”
For Idowu, however, fiercely holds on to the belief that life can and will get better. “Nigeria will get better if we pray,” he says. Realistically, to facilitate an end to the Danfo buses is to strip Lagos of its identity and upend a sense of familiarity for Lagosians. “I can’t imagine waking up and not seeing their colour or hearing their noises on the road any more,” shares Richard Onuoha, a student of the University of Lagos who relies on Danfo buses for his daily commute. “They are our culture. Even when you ask Nigerians in the diaspora, it is one of the things that they can easily point out about Lagos. It would be quite sad to take all of that away.”
This COLORS STORY was produced in response to the red, orange, yellow ochre, and clay like umber tones in PALETTE 1, COLORS’ first seasonal palette running from October – December 2023. Head over to our YouTube channel to watch shows from the PALETTE, or read more COLORS STORIES by clicking here.
Text: Ify Obi
Photography: Manny Jefferson
Field Producer: Iye Hassan
Location Assistant: Precious Otta
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Great Brand Recognition for Nigeria
Bismark Amamoo - Accra-Dansoman
Prof. R. E. Hinson - Accra